GOVERNMENT says despite numerous benefits of traditional grains to human nutrition and the crops’ resilience to climate shocks, the grains value chain needs transformation to catalyse the sector’s growth.
This was revealed by the Agricultural Advisory Services and Rural Development Directorate chief director Obert Jiri during a stakeholders workshop on millets in Harare on Tuesday.
The workshop, co-hosted by the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and the Indian government, was a fore-runner to the India-Africa International Millet Conference set to be held in Kenya from August 30 to 31 under the theme: Promoting the world’s emerging smart foods.
“I would like to highlight that despite huge progress in recent decades by research and development, productivity remains well below the genetic potential of released crop varieties due to a number of challenges confronting the smallholder sector including climate variability and change,” said Jiri, who spoke on behalf of Agriculture permanent secretary John Basera.
“Despite the numerous benefits of traditional grains to human nutrition and their inherent resistance to climate shocks, the value chain for traditional grains in the country needs transformation to act as a catalyst for the growth of the sector.
“Addressing challenges limiting the growth of the traditional grains sector requires a multi-disciplinary approach, where stakeholders are required to share their expertise and experiences to exploit the vast opportunities that exist and also come up with innovative solutions to address challenges hamstringing the growth of the traditional grains value chain.”
Jiri thanked the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation for declaring 2023 the International Year of Millets at its 75th session and encouraged all people to adopt climate-smart agriculturalstrategies that include traditional grains.
“Fundamental on agriculture contribution to this vision under NDS1 (National Development Strategy 1) is to increase food self-sufficiency from the current level of 45% to 100% and reduce food insecurity from the current peak of 59% in 2020 to less than 10% by 2025 and this can be achieved through promoting the adoption of climate-smart agricultural strategies including traditional grains and productivity-enhancing technologies some of which we have managed to see today,” he said.
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The ambassador of India to Zimbabwe, Shri Vijay Khanduja noted the importance of small grains such as millet, urging farmers to embrace them to improve their nutrition.
"Millet is something which is not just unique to India, it has been important in people's diets in earlier times and I am glad it is coming back. Millet has been one of the first foods that we had as a civilisation and it is referenced in ancient texts.
"Millets are smart foods, they require less water, are drought resistant and have great produce. So, one can actually count the benefits as these are the foods that are suitable for humanity, health, planet and everything,” he added.
Official data from the Zimbabwean government indicates an increase of about 16% of area under pearl millet from 163 138 hectares (ha) in the 2021/22 season to 188 856ha in the 2022/23 season.
The area under finger millet also increased by 56% to 29 294ha in the 2022/23 season. However, there was a slight drop in the area under sorghum, by 7% to 319 789ha in the 2022/23 season.
Millets are among the first plants to be domesticated and are considered nutri-cereals due to their high nutritional content.
The ministry challenged all farmers and stakeholders to raise awareness on millet growing because the crop can be cultivated under adverse and changing climatic conditions.